A USF Christmas Carol, Part 1: The Ghost Of USF Christmas Past Visits

Donald Miralle

It's A USF Christmas Carol, as three ghosts visit our curmudgeonly athletic director in the hope of changing his ways. First up is the Ghost of USF Christmas Past.

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With the holidays coming up soon, we'd like to present a heartwarming tale for the entire USF family... A USF Christmas Carol. This is Part 1 -- Part 2 and Part 3 will follow later this week. Hope you enjoy it.

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A rainy Christmas Eve in Tampa. Doug Woolard is sitting in his office. Outside his open door, he can hear people happily talking about their holiday parties and trips to visit family.

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WOOLARD: Bah, humbug! Everyone milling around wasting time. Don't they know it's still a workday? An honest day's work for an honest day's pay.

One of Doug's employees comes in.

STAFFER: Doug, I know it's Christmas Eve, but I just wanted to let you know I'm leaving. Here's my two weeks' notice.

WOOLARD: You're leaving? After all I've done for you?

STAFFER: More like after all you haven't done for me. I've worked my ass off for you and I haven't seen a raise in five years. Every time you tell us that we can't get raises because there's no money in the budget.

WOOLARD: There isn't any money in the budget!

STAFFER: Anyway, I'm leaving for a job with a non-profit. It's less stressful than working here, and guess what? It even pays better. Maybe I'll grow to love sports again now that I won't be working with them anymore.

The staffer turns around and leaves, mumbling about how there's plenty of money in the budget to give Woolard raises and bonuses.

WOOLARD: Humbug. Just an opportunity for us to get better, I suppose.

A marketing intern comes in, visibly upset.

WOOLARD: How can I help you?

INTERN: Well, Mr. McGillis came to me just now and said, "You need to find a way to get 3,000 students to attend the Syracuse game. Make it happen." I asked if there was any budget and he just said, "Make it happen." Don't tell him I came to you, he'll get really mad that I went behind his back.

WOOLARD: What's holding you back?

INTERN: How am I supposed to promote the game with no budget?

WOOLARD: We don't really have the money to do this, but I'm sure you'll find a way.

INTERN: Who am I supposed to promote the game to? We play Syracuse on January 6. The semester doesn't even start until January 7 and students won't get back to campus until the last minute.

WOOLARD: Sounds like a good learning experience! How do you reach students when they aren't on campus?

INTERN: Have we ever had 3,000 students at a basketball game? Actually, I don't even think there are 3,000 seats for students in --

WOOLARD: Oh, look at the time, I have to get home! Let me know what you come up with on the 26th.

Doug gets up and heads out the door, saying something over his shoulder about he has faith in her.

INTERN: But tomorrow's Christmas! I don't want to spend tomorrow figuring this out, I'm driving home to spend the day with my family! I haven't seen them since August because I was so busy during football season.

WOOLARD: Christmas? Humbug!

She stares at him as he walks out, mortified at having to spend her Christmas solving this impossible puzzle.

Doug drives to his house and spends a quiet evening there at home. As he is about to head to bed, a ghost appears in front of him.

GHOST: Doug... Doouuuugggg...

WOOLARD: Who is that? What are you? Are you a ghost?

GHOST: It is I, Paul Griffin...

WOOLARD: But you're still alive and working at Georgia Tech. How can you be a ghost?

GRIFFIN: I'm a figment of your imagination, I can be anything...

WOOLARD: Can you get us into the ACC?

GRIFFIN (ignoring his question): Tonight you will be visited by three ghosts, Doug. Take heed to what they show you... and listen to what they tell you... lest you end up living out the grim future that is before you... there is still time to change...

Griffin fades away. Doug ponders what he could have meant for a minute. Then another ghost appears.

GHOST: Doug... Doouuuuuggggg...

WOOLARD: Barbara Sparks-McGlinchy, is that you? How have you been? What brings you here?

BARBARA: Doug, I am the Ghost of USF Christmas Past, and I am here to help you change your way before it's too late. Come with me, I have much to show you.

The ghost reaches for Doug's hand, and he takes it. The two of them disappear from Doug's bedroom and reappear in his office, in the brand-new Athletics building. A new athletic director has just moved in.

WOOLARD: Is that me?

BARBARA: It is, Doug. It's 2004, and you've just come to USF from Saint Louis.

The two of them watch as a stream of people come in. They are happy to meet their new leader, telling him about how excited they are to be part of a growing program like USF, and that they can't wait to get started.

WOOLARD: Everyone's so positive and full of energy! I remember these days well. I wish we could have them again... all the people who we saw, who ended up leaving with such frustration and anger.

BARBARA: Indeed, many of them did. Come along now.

Doug and Barbara re-appear on the field at a USF football game. They are playing West Virginia and the stadium is sold out. The noise is almost too loud for Doug to be heard as he speaks.

WOOLARD: I remember this too! Everyone wanted to be at this game. USF football was the biggest thing in town and people wanted to get in on the ground floor.

At that moment, Ben Moffitt intercepts a pass and runs it back for a touchdown. The ground shakes from all the noise. The packed student section hugs and high-fives each other, and pounds on the padding to celebrate.

BARBARA: You were well on your way here, Doug. On your way to having the best athletic department in the Big East. A successful football team, a new basketball coach, a strong conference with plenty of respect, excited fans ready to buy tickets and make donations, national recognition, new stadiums coming for your other sports... it was all in front of you.

They leave the stadium and reappear along I-275 on a bright fall morning, near the I-4 interchange. They are facing a billboard.

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DOUG: Oh... yeah... I remember this too. Why did you bring me here?

BARBARA: This was an act of hubris, Doug. The kind of thing you had never done up until now. The man who replaced me put this up after one win against Florida State, which was another great day for USF...

They appear in the stands at Doak Campbell Stadium. There are at least 10,000 USF fans who drove up from Tampa, making more noise than 70,000 FSU fans.

BARBARA: You beat them with a quarterback making his first start. And that defense... they just beat the Seminoles up with all those big hits and sacks and turnovers. It was quite a sight to behold.

They go back to the billboard.

BARBARA: But my replacement, he just couldn't let that game speak for itself. It was really another step on a long journey, but he had to go and do this. Do you remember how mad it made Jim Leavitt? How bad you all looked when it was taken down so quickly? How much people would make fun of you later when the team stopped winning games?

Doug is silent, thinking about all this.

BARBARA: Something happened after this, Doug. Everything became about hype and sizzle and shortcuts, and having a wow factor. And you decided to try and do much more with much less, over and over again. Eventually your fans noticed it. When they couldn't talk to anyone about tickets, or when they saw things wrong all over your Web site, or when they asked why no one ever marketed events so people would know they were going on... they noticed it.

Suddenly the two of them are back in Doug's bedroom.

BARBARA: But you know, Doug, as big a problem as that could have been, you have much bigger ones now... you'll see...

Barbara's ghost disappears. Doug stands in his bedroom shaken, knowing the next ghost will be arriving soon.

(to be continued)

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